Ukrainian refugees face employment challenges in starting new lives in Saskatchewan

Oksana Klepikova working at her desk at Odesa National Polytechnic University in Ukraine. Kateryna Klepikova

As Russia continues to wage its war on Ukraine, more and more people escaping the violence are calling for help as they try to start a new life.

One such family landed in Regina on April 16 and they’ve been on the hunt to get a job.

Kateryna Klepikova, her mother, Oksana Klepikova, and her 12-year-old son left Odesa, Ukraine when Russian missiles started hitting civilian buildings in their city.

Read more: Russia destroys Ukrainian oil refinery, hits ‘critical infrastructure’ near Odesa port

Kateryna holds a bachelor’s degree in foreign languages including English, German, Ukrainian and Russian. Her mother has a PhD and worked as an associate professor at the economics department, Odessa National Polytechnic University for the last 20 years.

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They’ve been proactively applying for teaching and management jobs across universities and schools in Regina but there are challenges along the way.

Kateryna Klepikova at the Mechnikov National University, Ukraine. Kateryna Klepikova

Kateryna has always wanted to teach English but to do that in Canada she needs a TESOL (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) certificate. Oksana was looking for a math professor job but is required to prove her qualifications by getting a Saskatchewan teaching certificate.

They are both forbidden to teach children because another medical test is required to be able to do that in addition to the regular medical tests that immigrants have to take to stay in Canada. The regular medical test costs about $300 each, so that’s $900 for this family and then they need to take the extra tests for teaching children.

Read more: Canadian, U.S. defence ministers highlight aid to Ukraine, but mum on Norad’s future

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“It’s basically quite expensive for us … Bear in mind that we are unemployed in Canada at the moment,” Kateryna said.

Click to play video: 'Ukrainian refugees hit with costly medical tests upon arrival to Canada'
Ukrainian refugees hit with costly medical tests upon arrival to Canada

Terry Dennis, MLA for Canora-Pelly and the legislature secretary for Ukraine-Saskatchewan relations, has been tasked with working with the refugees.

“The government has partnered with UCC (Ukrainian Canadian Congress) with a budget of $335,000 and set up a main office in Saskatoon to centralize efforts for food, clothing, jobs, settlement and various other services,” Dennis said.

“I don’t think it will be a problem for Ukrainians to find jobs as Saskatchewan people are welcoming in offering jobs and residence, it’s been overwhelming.”

Read more: Sask. opening its doors to those fleeing from Ukraine

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Dennis said, given the budget, it should not be a problem for people to navigate through resources and get the help they need for verifying their credentials.

“We are prepared to accept as many people as possible and cover all those costs with that current budget,” he said.

Andrii Stakhov, Employment Liaison at the Ukrainian Canadian Congress (UCC), is responsible for helping Ukrainian refugees settle in Saskatchewan and get them employed.

“More than 60 people have arrived in Saskatchewan and we are trying to help them through every step starting from the airport to getting their SIN, health card, housing and employment,” Andrii Stakhov said.

Ukrainians arriving in Saskatchewan can go to the UCC website to find the various programs and services available for assistance.

Read more: Canada could reopen Ukraine embassy imminently amid push to sell Russian assets: Joly

Most of the Ukrainian immigrants and refugees coming to Canada are women and children, as the men remain in their homeland to fight. One of the biggest challenges for refugees is the language barrier – English fluency is needed to access resources, do immigration paperwork or make a resume to find a job, Stakhov said.

There is also a lack of Canadian work experience and the issue of their degrees not being recognized, which means a lot of Ukrainian immigrants cannot get a job in their field because they cannot prove their qualifications.

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“Someone could have been a manager in Ukraine but now they have to do construction work because they are not ready, emotionally, mentally and need time to prove their credentials but also need a job to survive,” he added.

Kateryna Klepikova in Mukachevo, Ukraine during winter. Kateryna Klepikova
Oksana Klepikova in Mukachevi, a town in Ukraine. Kateryna Klepikova

Oksana has not heard back from any of the positions she applied for; Kateryna on the other hand has two interviews lined up for a social worker and sales representative position.

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The main challenges they are facing are documentation, registrations and accrediting qualifications, which is slowing down their job search, Kateryna said.  She has also reached out to Open Door Society in Regina to guide her through the different processes.

Read more: Russia’s war in Donbas picks up speed, Ukraine says

Victoria Flores, who is the marketing manager at Open Door Society explained the society provides employment counsellors for people like Oksana and Kateryna.

“We provide resources such as employment counsellors, classes and workshops to help newcomers find jobs. We also offer help accessing credential recognition through partnerships with organizations like World Education Services(WES) and their Gateway program,” Flores said.

“This program aims to simplify the process of credential evaluation for refugees and displaced individuals from Afghanistan, Eritrea, Iraq, Syria, Turkey, Ukraine, and Venezuela who lack verifiable educational credentials due to adverse circumstances,” she added.

Oksana says while she has the skills, experience and knowledge she is unable to use them.

“It was very hard because the move was sudden and unplanned but we are optimistic,” she added.

Kateryna Klepikova in Odesa before Russia’s war on Ukraine.

Kateryna is hopeful that she will find an appropriate job and continue living in Regina.

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Read more: Ukrainian refugees should be allowed to stay in Canada, Sask. minister says

“We don’t have long-term plans at the moment but we hope to get teaching certificates and be able to work in Canada to chase my dreams of becoming a successful English teacher,” she said.

She added that they are hoping the war will be over soon as they are constantly worried about family and friends in Ukraine.

“That is our first hope, it is very difficult for our people,” she said.

“I also want to say that all Ukrainians need support in Canada, because those who don’t have any family or friends are alone and they need help, we couldn’t live without your help and support,” Oksana said.

Click to play video: 'Joint efforts to co-ordinate flights for Canada-bound Ukrainian refugees'
Joint efforts to co-ordinate flights for Canada-bound Ukrainian refugees

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